Machiavelli’s Powerful Advice For Nice People

Niccolò Machiavelli was a 16th-century Italian Renaissance philosopher and writer. He is most well-known for his writing on political strategy and morality as they pertain to the goal of acquiring power. Most of Machiavelli’s big ideas were expressed through his book The Prince. That is where he gives his most powerful advice for nice people who aren’t able to achieve what they want in life.

Machiavelli’s advice hinges on a powerful yet uncomfortable observation about life: the evil and wicked people usually win. They’re often the ones who walk away with the big prizes in terms of money and status. They achieve their goals far more often than nice people, often at the expense of them.

Strategies of the wicked

The so-called “wicked” people are able to win far more often than the “good” people because they are always willing to do more. A wicked person will do whatever it takes to win no matter how dark, cunning, or immoral their actions may be. Most importantly, they will do things that a good person simply refuses to, for ethical or moral reasons.

A wicked person will lie, cheat, steal, betray, and destroy as long as it furthers their cause. They’ll use charming words to seduce others, only to stab them in the back later. They’ll directly threaten or even get violent if necessary. That is how they conquer the world.

Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great”
— Niccolò Machiavelli

Many people falsely believe that we live in an ideal world. Within such a world, you’d have all people be kind, nice, modest, merciful, honest, and overall good. Everyone would have ethical goals and go through an ethical means to achieve them. All would be fair, just, honest, moral, and polite.

But Machiavelli had a big problem with this: it doesn’t work. If you look back over history, people who were honest and good in their career and business always lost. They might be able to succeed in some things for a short while, but they eventually meet a person who is more wicked, and willing to do more to win. The wicked more frequently win because they are always willing to go that one step further. The good people get left behind.

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”
— Niccolò Machiavelli

How to win as a nice person

Now here comes Machiavelli’s key thought: how can one consistently win without being a wicked person? How could one achieve their goals while acting in line with moral and ethical principles (at least most of the time)?

His answer in The Prince was to be as nice as one wanted, but never to be overly committed to acting nicely. To be nice and good as often as you can but, when necessary for survival, to employ the darker and less merciful strategies.

“I’m a kind person, I’m kind to everyone, but if you are unkind to me, then kindness is not what you’ll remember me for.”
— Al Capone

According to Machiavelli, the concept of always being nice originated from the stories of Jesus Christ. Much of Europe at the time was brought up on Christianity and ancient philosophers. Both groups strongly advocated for acting in line with morality. But, as Machiavelli points out, this way of life is ideal, and ultimately ineffective in the real-world.

Machiavelli’s advice was not to become fully wicked, but rather to learn a few things from the wicked that were effective. Such learning is necessary for survival. You could employ the wicked strategies yourself if necessary, or not. But at the very least to be aware of them so you know what other people might do.

There are some simple strategies and techniques you’ll need to understand to survive. Deception is a common one, whereby one uses selective honesty and careful actions to hide their true intentions. Another is seductive leverage, whereby you act in a charming way to get people to follow you and believe what you say. Many such strategies are talked about in The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous”
— Niccolò Machiavelli

People use these techniques all the time in order to win. A manager at work might try to steal credit for your work. A coworker will stab you in the back by making you look bad in a meeting. A partner might stay with you in a relationship as long as you have money, only to leave immediately if you should fall in status. Understanding how the world operates in this way and how people always strive for their own self-interests will help you to survive and succeed. You know how people might act immorally and can thus prepare for it either strategically or just mentally.

Even if you don’t employ any of these strategies directly, it will help if you can ensure that you don’t display yourself as being too nice. Being 100% nice all the time signals to other people that they can walk all over you. You would be making yourself into a target for the wicked to take advantage of. You can certainly be a good person, but make sure others know that you aren’t a pushover and that you will fight back if necessary.

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both
— Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s advice disturbs us because it touches us at our deepest levels of self-interest. He reveals the true essence and selfishness of human nature. Yet it is not for the goal of being evil, quite the contrary.

Understanding those who are wicked and their strategies helps us to further goodness, wisdom, and virtue in the world. We must learn from both sides, both good and wicked if we are to reach our full potential. It is the most honest and effective way of surviving and thriving in this world.

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